Last year our school district was fortunate to receive a $12,000 grant to fund a handheld computing project. We chose the iPod touch (a.k.a., "iTouch") as our handheld solution for a variety of reasons. The iTouch is fast and portable. The students stay on task because we can control the apps they are using. There are apps available in all subject areas that focus on specific classroom objectives. We purchased 18 iTouch units for our high school and 30 units for our middle school, grades 5-8. They were implemented as "portable labs" (15 to 20 units in a small bag that can be used by any of the classroom teachers). With many different teachers using the iTouch sets, we learned a lot about using them in the classroom.
Data collection apps
There are over 10,000 apps available in the App Store's education category. Many are of the "drill & skill" variety, which can be useful in the classroom at times. In addition, there are apps that give the student the opportunity to explore, create, and work towards a desired objective. For example, we use the Nike + iPod Sensor ($29; store.apple.com) to let students collect data about their workouts, including distance traveled and calories spent. The Shoe Pouch ($9.99; grantwoodtechnology.com) lets them attach the sensor to their shoe. The sensor communicates with the iTouch via Bluetooth and the necessary app is already built into the iTouch. Once support is turned on in the Settings menu, the student can collect workout dates, create graphs, determine average speeds during the workout, and make comparisons to previous workouts.
Other "data collection" apps help students with a variety of projects. For example, AppBox Pro ($0.99; app2.me/2438) includes a digital level that can be used for measuring angle of elevation. PunchPower ($0.99; app2.me/2439) and G Force ($2.99; app2.me/2440) use the accelerometer in the iTouch to measure the force behind a punch or the g-force of a swing or merry-go-round. These are fun apps that are easy to use; they keep students focused on the data that was created from their own personal experience.
Calculators of all kinds are useful in the classroom. Simple Loan Calculator Premium ($0.99; app2.me/2441) can create an amortization table for any loan given the principle, interest rate, and duration of the payback schedule. Graphing Calculator ($1.99; app2.me/2442) and Quick Graph (free; app2.me/2443) are great apps that allow students to plot functions and work with graphs. (And they don't break the bank like a dedicated graphing calculator!)
There are several eBook readers available for the iTouch, but we don't emphasize their use due to the small screen on the device. We have seen the best results, however, utilizing audiobooks with the students. For example, we use printed copies of Charlotte's Web along with a downloaded audiobook with our fifth grade class. Some days they do a traditional "read aloud in class," while other days they use the audiobook with headphones to read along. This is very exciting for the students and provides modeling for many specific reading skills such as fluency, emphasis, and pacing. The kids also love to take the iTouch home and "read along" with a parent or sibling, sharing an earbud as they read the printed book.
Podcasts and Video Clips
There are several short videos and video podcasts that can be downloaded to the iTouch. New Mexico State University created a series of fun math videos called Math Snacks (mathsnacks.org) which can be downloaded via iTunes. There you will find short clips about topics like ratio and proportion, scale factor, and placement on the number line.
Another kid favorite is CNN Student News (cnn.com/student news). Each weekday, an 8-10 minute clip is provided which discusses current events and other interesting topics in a kid-friendly atmosphere. The Web site includes teacher resources such as lesson ideas, discussion questions, and maps. This is updated each day and all the resources are free to download. The best part is that you don't have to spend valuable class time watching the video. You can download it to the students' iTouches and send it with them as homework. (You don't have to worry about this homework getting done—they will watch it!)
Another popular podcast is Coolest Stuff on the Planet (howstuffworks.com). Each week your students will get to experience a video field trip and see a variety of things, including Yellowstone Park, sea lions, the Panama Canal, and more. This is another podcast that students love to watch for homework.
Essentially, you can download almost any video from the Internet within the confines of the Fair Use Act (copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html). We use YouTube and other video sources to download short clips for classroom use. Schoolhouse Rock! and Bill Nye are two the students are excited to watch. We also find short videos to be very helpful in our PE classes. We have an outdoor education unit that includes a canoe and camping trip. We downloaded videos about hypothermia and nutrition that the students viewed in preparation for the trip. Our high school PE teacher has a fly fishing unit that includes tying flies. We use the iTouches to provide students with individualized help as they learn this new skill. They can rewind the video when desired and ask for help from the teacher as needed. Finally, we use several short video clips that demonstrate track and field events like triple jump, pole vault, and discus. Students watch the clips with the coach, who can then emphasize certain skills to the athlete. The possibilities are almost endless when using short video clips!
Many apps can be used as learning tools in your classroom with little or no preparation. For example, the built-in Clock app provides timers and stopwatches that you will find handy. The previously mentioned App Box Pro also has a flashlight and random number generator. Motion-X Dice (free; app2.me/2444) provides dice that can be rolled without all the noise and the stray die on the floor. One teacher has the students view a video clip from Bill Nye about probability for homework. The next day they do a probability lab using Motion-X Dice. Each student can control the number of dice used and can quickly complete the simulation.
We also use apps for quick access to information. Dictionary.com - Dictionary & Thesaurus (free; app2.me/204) provides a quick reference that can be used in any classroom. Wolfram Alpha ($1.99; app2.me/2445) is a powerful information search engine that aims to, "…collect and curate all objective data…and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything."
A common app that is also a powerful reading intervention tool is Voice Memos ($0.99; app2.me/2446). It works great for recording students as they read. The student reads a paragraph or page and then listens to his or her own recording. The immediate feedback for the student is very powerful. The audio clips can be saved and used as an electronic portfolio to show student progress and also as feedback for parents. The parents seem to really enjoy listening to their child at our parent-teacher conferences. The sound file can even be sent as an attachment to an e-mail. The iTouch does not have a built in microphone, but we found very inexpensive ones online at Buy.com and Monoprice.com.
Making Change ($0.99; app2.me/2447) gives students the opportunity to practice before they jump into the school concession stand at the basketball game. Practice Mode helps them determine and count back the change for a given problem. Game Mode provides a full simulation of counting back money when given a bill and a payment.
iFitness ($1.99; app2.me/2448) and iMuscle ($1.99; app2.me/2449) are great apps for aspiring athletes. When we start a weightlifting unit, the students use iFitness to choose a muscle group such as abdominals or shoulders. They then can look at dozens of different exercises and choose the one that best fits their skill level and the available equipment. iMuscle provides detailed, interactive illustrations with which they can see the muscles, learn their proper names, and view corresponding lifts for them. Using these tools, they can build a customized workout and learn about their anatomy.
Lose It! (free; app2.me/2457) and Restaurant Nutrition (free; app2.me/2458) are both wonderful apps to learn about caloric input and output. Restaurant Nutrition includes almost all the major restaurants and the nutritional value for each item on the menu, some of which are a little shocking to the students. Lose It! includes a database with nutritional information for common food items, as well as a database for common exercises. Students can use both these apps to create a calorie log and better understand the consequences of what they eat and how they exercise.
If you are lucky enough to have a set of iPods for your classroom, there are some apps and resources that will help to manage all of your devices. BargainBin With Push! (free; app2.me/2459) provides daily updates of apps that are marked down in price. It allows you to choose a category to watch including "education." Dropbox (free;app2.me/127) allows you to move files easily between Macs, PC's, and iPods. The service provides a 2GB storage area on their servers for free. This is enough space to move most documents, pictures, and videos with room to spare. Wallpaper Labeler ($0.99; app2.me/2460) allows you to create custom wallpaper for your classroom set. Our wallpaper includes the school name and phone number in case the iPod is misplaced.
There are many other issues to consider when managing a classroom full of iTouch handhelds. Charging and syncing are important issues to consider before any purchases are made. Bretford (apple.bretford.com) makes several different solutions including mobile carts and cases which allow you to charge and synch multiple units at the same time. However, keep in mind they are only for the Mac due to USB driver limitations within Windows. You will want to use one computer to manage all the apps for your iTouches. We have 48 iTouch units that we manage through one PC laptop. This is about the limit unless you want to spend countless hours syncing iPods.
There are also many Web sites and forums online to gather and share information and experiences about using iPods in the classroom. Our favorite is Learning In Hand (learninginhand.com). You will find fabulous ideas on implementation and management of your classroom set there. Another great resource is the iPod Touch Schoolwide Implementation forum at Classroom 2.0 (classroom20.com/forum/topics/ipod-touch-schoolwide). This discussion forum is open to all things iPod touch in education and has contributors from all over the globe.
The future of education is bright
Since the iPhone OS platform is so popular, there will be a great deal of innovation in educational app development in the future. The iPad has only increased the number of valuable resources available for teachers and students alike. The next generation of apps will push the hardware to its limits and will provide resources that we can only dream of at this point. If you stay in touch with the newest apps and trends, we believe the sky is the limit for your classroom.